CHAMPION jockey AP McCoy believes it is “very likely” that he will ride Irish National winner Shutthefrontdoor in the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree next month.
He appears set to stay loyal to the Jonjo O’Neill-trained stayer rather than the Cheltenham Festival winner Cause of Causes who is trained in Ireland by Gordon Elliott.
Though McCoy’s decision is not set in stone, it prompted bookmakers to predict that the jockey’s final ride in the National before retirement will be the most heavily-backed horse since the Red Rum era in the 1970s.
The soon-to-be 20-times champion jockey has indicated that he will retire on the spot if he wins a second National on April 11 following the success of Don’t Push It, but there is every likelihood that his final rides will be at Sandown’s season-ending meeting on April 25 after he ruled out the prospect of riding at the Punchestown festival the following week.
“I’m very likely to ride Shutthefrontdoor but I won’t commit finally until close to declaration time – there is plenty of time yet for something to go wrong,” said McCoy.
“I’m not sure he should be such a short price, and it’s a long time since he ran, but something would have to happen for me to switch from him.
“His trainer Jonjo O’Neill has a fantastic record with staying chasers and the horse is obviously in good form. I rode him round a circuit of Southwell last week and he jumped very well.
“If I don’t win it, I’ll go on until Sandown. It’s the end of the British season and they have been good enough to name a race after me. I did have some thoughts about Punchestown, the following week, but I definitely won’t be riding there. If I did that, I might just as well carry on and I won’t be doing that.”
That will be of some relief to the bookmaking fraternity as the betting industry braces itself for a huge sentimental gamble on McCoy.
Jon Ivan-Duke, spokesman for Leeds-based William Hill, said: “We’re staring down the barrel of potentially the biggest payout of the year. The momentum is building for McCoy’s final ride in the Grand National and Shutthefrontdoor could start as the shortest-priced favourite since Red Rum.”
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls expects to field a four-strong team in the National.
The well-fancied Rocky Creek, fifth 12 months ago, and progressive young grey Unioniste will lead his assault on the world’s greatest steeplechase as Nicholls looks to replicate the last-gasp success of Neptune Collonges in 2012.
They will be supported by Royal Rebellion, winner of the 2013 Grand Sefton over the famous fences, and Mon Parrain, second in the Topham Chase four years ago.
“Unioniste will appreciate plenty of cut in the ground at Aintree and, like Rocky Creek, continues to give me the right signals at home. Hopefully it is a good omen that he is due to run off the same mark and weight as Neptune Collonges in 2012,” said Nicholls. “Racing anoraks will tell you that Unioniste is too young at seven to win the National but I take no notice of statistics and trends. For me they are there to be broken.”
As for Benvolio, Nicholls say the horse will only run if the going is soft while the race may come too soon for Sam Winner who was pulled up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup when outpaced, like so many, by the heroic Coneygree.
Meanwhile Jason Maguire, victorious at Aintree in 2011 aboard Ballabriggs, will miss a second successive National because of injury.
He is still being treated for back injuries sustained in an awkward fall at Catterick at the beginning of the month.
However he hopes to have a clean bill of health by the end of the next month so he can join the race to become champion National Hunt jockey in the post-McCoy era.
DAVID Pipe has issued an upbeat assessment of 2014 Ryanair Chase winner Dynaste who suffered a season-ending injury at Cheltenham in late January.
“He has been a model patient,” said Pipe who is still waiting to learn whether Cheltenham Festival winner The Package will make the cut for the National and join stablemate Soll in the line-up.
“I have been very happy with how his recuperation has gone and I am very hopeful that we will enjoy a full season with him next term and that he will return as good as before.”